The corona epidemic threatens both people, companies and brands. In some cases, the crisis reveals that social responsibility and purpose is nothing more than party talk that has nothing to do with the business – and therefore is forgotten in times of gravity. But the epidemic also present companies with great possibilities to transform and sharpen their purpose and brand in a time with a strong need for responsible companies.
When some believe that “purpose”, the company’s “why” or corporate social responsibility only belong to times of prosperity and financial booms, they have misunderstood what it means to have a purpose and to run a business and a brand based on a meaningful purpose. It’s in the very moment of a crisis, that a company’s purpose stands its test.
If you can talk about “purpose” and “core business” as two separate things, it reveals that the company have (had) a “party purpose” that belongs to the marketing department or the advertising agency, but in reality, doesn’t mean a thing where decisions are made.
One of the things that drove the CSR agenda off track, to such an extent that you could see the tiredness and wandering thoughts in the eyes of the CEOs when the topic was mentioned throughout the 2010s, was that many companies worked with social responsibility separate from the business’ products and services. And if you still think that you can work with the company’s purpose and social responsibility distinct from what the company makes a profit from, it’s time to redefine your role and prove that the right purpose show in both society and the economic bottom line.
The companies that make a habit of acting strategically and managerially on the basis of a clear corporate purpose, will also be able to do so in a time of crisis – in fact particularly in difficult times. Whether the crisis apply specifically to the company or is – as we are experiencing now – a general crisis in society, the purpose driven brands are able to act on the basis of an overall idea of making a positive difference in society.
Likewise, the study ”The case for purpose” from EY and Harvard Business Review, show that companies with a well-defined and articulated purpose perform better in times of crisis, are more innovative, robust and adaptable. And that shows in practice now.
Quick moves and social interaction
The corona epidemic is a health crisis with the effect of a social and financial crisis. The social element is key, since it dictates how a brand can and should act right now. Instead of spreading further panic, also called “scaremongering”, a number of social groups in Canada now try to spread the idea of “caremongering” – that is to spread kindness and helpfulness, both digitally and in the form of practical help. In few days, the Canadian groups had more than 3,000 members on their social media, wanting to help others during the coronavirus. The same happens all around the world now.
This crisis incites – more than other crises – to social interaction, giving brands huge possibilities to engage people in a worthwhile goal. Companies thus have an unusual opportunity to make a positive difference in their local community and at the same time engage employees and customers in the brand. But naturally, it requires the ability to adapt to the given situation and perform a relevant effort.
So what is relevant during the corona epidemic? Some of the richest and most luxurious brands are adjusting quickly to make a difference here and now. Very quickly after the crisis incurred, the Louis Vuitton owner, LVMH has reorganized the production of perfume, otherwise producing scents for Christian Dior, Guerlain and Givenchy, to supply disinfectants free to the French hospitals. Spanish fashion giant Zara has changed its manufacturing facilities and logistics to deliver over 300,000 hospital masks to hospitals this week. German Beiersdorf is in the process of redesigning two factories in Germany and one in Spain, which otherwise produces Nivea cream, so that they can soon deliver hand sanitizer to play a role in countering the corona crisis. Denmark’s most expensive two-star Michelin restaurant, Alchemist, with the talented chef Rasmus Munk in front and Saxo bank founder Lars Seier Christensen as investor, now delivers classic Danish hot dishes to the homeless in central Copenhagen.
Alchemist creates world-class experiences and their purpose has been exemplary transformed into meeting the crisis so that a completely different audience gets an amazing and necessary experience. In other words, there are plenty of opportunities to make a difference, whether it requires a reorganization of the business or the need in society during the crisis matches the existing products.
Tarnished reputation is not forgotten
One of the things Danes and companies need during this crisis is funding. The largest Scandinavian banks, Danske Bank, Nordea and others in the financial sector, promise that they will help customers by postponing payments, making extra loans and, altogether contribute to the community that saved the banks during the financial crisis.
The help will benefit those who are creditworthy. Implicitly, if you are getting in serious trouble, don’t call the bank. At the same time, the management and the owners at Danske Bank are discussing whether they now have to show public spirit and lower an expected dividend of over seven billion Danish kroner (about a billion Euro). The timing couldn’t be worse. And rumored to be the financial sector’s most unscrupulous business with fraud, money laundering and bad judgement on it’s tarnished reputation is making it even worse.
The way things are evolving confirms the suspicion. The “party purpose” also prevails in the financial sector; as something we say in the campaigns when we talk about how good we are. The other 99 percent of the time, we make money. It becomes obvious and semi-public that purpose should not really cost anything and that it doesn’t count if putting purpose into practice requires anything out of the ordinary from the owners or management.
Facebook recently announced a specific $100 million subsidy program to help small businesses in the more than 30 countries where Facebook operates. Part of the grants are financial aimed at covering rent and salary payments in small businesses. Part of the help is exposure on social meda platforms, so that small businesses can get help getting more customers at a time where earnings are squeezing or perhaps completely disappearing.
One can say many bad things about Facebook and the company’s lack of responsibility in society, but right here Facebook has been quicker than most to get on track with solutions that leverage their own resources and help customers.
New possibilities if you know your purpose
Even for some of the companies that are seriously affected by the crisis, opportunities may arise. How does the cultural industry deliver their experiences during the corona crisis? Venues, cinemas and museums are closed down – and unfortunately for an extended period, which can be dangerous for both the economy and the brand.
The Danish documentary film festival CPH:DOX was just about to open doors when the crisis hit. In just seven hectic days, the festival changed the format to become a virtual festival, so you now buy a ticket to watch movies and talks online. This is an excellent example of how format and distribution can change and evidence that when a purpose is clear, the company and brand stand stronger when a crisis hits. Purpose is the same, it is the way to achieve the purpose that is changed.
Lots of companies that have invested in being digital are reaping the benefits now. Snappy Shopper has seen 115 percent sales growth and 62 percent more transactions since the epidemic closed the UK. With the code “over60” the elderly get their deliveries free of charge. This helps the most vulnerable in their everyday life, but it also helps the older target group to get used to shopping online at Snappy Shopper.
It is always crucial to find out how the company’s purpose perform under changing conditions, whether it is a new competitive situation, new customer needs or a societal crisis. For many, right now it requires products and services to be delivered digitally – even in places where they thought it would never happen. Business developers and digital managers have an obvious opportunity to demonstrate how the business can be thought of digitally and delivered in new ways. Every executive and board should be ready for a skype meeting about the company’s digital capabilities right now.
The Corona crisis provides a special opportunity to learn what difference a corporate purpose makes to the business. In some places, you have to realize that in reality, the company has no purpose (whatever it says in the PowerPoint or strategy document) and then the question is if the crisis provides the burning platform that the company can gather around to survive – and that the crisis in the end gives birth to a new meaningful purpose. Elsewhere, it turns out that purpose is actually based on the organization’s DNA and truly defines the business.
In these cases, the changed conditions in the outside world will cause the company to transform its purpose brand to provide the greatest possible value right here and now – both in terms of value for the company and for society in the broad sense.
Transform your brand
Learn more on running a business and brand based on a meaningful purpose. Read our cases, subscribe to our newsletter or meet us for a (virtual) cup of coffee and discuss the possibilities for transforming your purpose brand. Give us a call or write an email to Nikolaj Stagis.